Water Crisis in Gaza

Gaza Strip has been enduring constant Israeli bombardment for many years which has resulted in severe damages to its infrastructure and to its citizens. However the real risk is Gaza’s lack of usable water.  The only natural source of fresh water in Gaza is a shallow aquifer on the southern part of its coast; 90 to 95% of which is not safe for drinking because of neighboring seawater, sewage, and runoff from agriculture. Even though most of it is not fit for consumption, residents have no other choice but to resort to using it. UN hydrologists have indicated that current extraction rates from the aquifer run at around 160 million cubic meters (mcm)/year, 105 mcm above the recommended abstraction rate.

The repercussions of this over abstraction can be disastrous because a drop in the water table would cause a large volume of sea water to seep through the surface and into the aquifer, further contaminating the entire aquifer.

Of course the situation was not always like this. Prior to 2006, around 97% of all households within the Gaza strip had access to the coastal aquifer. Gaza also showcased five sewage and wastewater treatment plants that improved the water’s health & status. Why did all of this change? What happened? Why have scientists predicted that the Gaza strip will become unlivable by the year 2016?

The ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza has had a heavy toll on the strip's already fragile water infrastructure, leaving the territory's 1.8 million residents facing long periods without access to clean running water. This has driven residents to travel long distances in order to reach a source of water that they could use. Some residents have even relied on purchasing expensive bottled water smuggled in from the underground tunnels that connect into Egypt. The constant bombardment has also had negative effects on the five sewage and wastewater treatment plants in Gaza, three of which have been damaged by the bombings. The damage to the treatment plants led to the discharge of an estimated 3.5 million cubic feet (1 Cubic feet = 0.028 cubic meters) of raw sewage into the Mediterranean Sea every day.

It must be noted that this water crisis in Gaza was present well before the most recent Israeli bombardment began.  Since the Israeli blockade on the Gaza strip enforced in 2006 Israel has controlled everything from the national air space to everything entering and exiting the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, Israel has denied the influx of raw material that would be used to improve the current outdated infrastructure causing the existing infrastructure to deteriorate over time. Additionally, as is the situation in the West Bank Israel did and still consumes a disproportionate share of water (approximately 80%) from Gaza’s only water source, the coastal aquifer. Finally, as if to rub salt into the Palestinians wounds, it constantly rejects Palestinian proposals for the construction of private water wells and often destroys any that exist.

In 2012, the plans for a desalination plant in Gaza were suggested and were backed by Israel, all Mediterranean governments, the UN, the EU, and key development banks. It was also confirmed that the finances for this projects were to be provided by the Islamic Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.However shortly after the plans were published, conflicts reoccurred and Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip continued. This once promising project was discarded and infrastructure destroyed.

The city’s water quality has become a central factor in its water crisis threatening all life in the city. With no end in sight for both the current attacks on the city and the illegal blockade, there are little to no solutions left for Gaza. With its infrastructure constantly being destroyed and its water polluted, the only solution is peace. Without peace the water crisis will continue to worsen until the Gaza Strip becomes unlivable. The illegal blockade must be lifted to allow the people of Gaza the freedom to manage its own water supply, rebuild its infrastructure, and to import fresh water from the outside world because without it Gaza will cease to exist.

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About Amir Dakkak

Amir Dakkak, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, is an Environmental Scientist at AECOM. His main passion is water scarcity and water sustainability in the MENA region. He runs the blog Water Source that addresses water problems and sustainability. Amir has worked with Emirates Environmental Group on various environmental issues including water scarcity.

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